SB’15 Recap: The Employee Engagement and Volunteerism Perspective

14272922640_2e723abdc8_mCorporate social responsibility (CSR) requires a holistic strategy. Sustainability is just one piece of that strategy.

Sustainable Brands gets this. While it’s billed as a sustainability conference, it actually focuses on the whole picture: How all facets of CSR work together to improve both business practices and the communities in which companies operate.

And out of all the facets CSR, as a VolunteerMatch employee, I’m obviously most interested in employee volunteerism. It’s a win-win: It helps the communities in which employees serve, but it also helps companies in many ways – one of which is by increasing employee engagement.

This year, I was pleased to see an entire track at Sustainable Brands dedicated to employee engagement – much more than in past years. It’s great to see this benefit of employee volunteer programs brought more and more to light and take its rightful place next to other components of CSR strategy. Within the sessions in this track, some of the speakers touched on their employee volunteering initiatives, but as a whole the focus was more on engaging employees through CSR initiatives in general.

One idea that resonated with me is that we need redefine what “engagement” actually means to us. For a new program, identifying that your employees are engaged might mean a goal of 60% of employees participating in at least one project throughout the year. But once you’ve reached those goals, you need to redefine what engagement looks like to keep your programs growing and evolving.

Furthermore, something that I heard repeatedly in plenaries and breakout sessions alike was the concept of placing purpose at the center of your strategy. I couldn’t agree more! When your business has purpose and community in the center of strategy, it can’t help but become a part of employees’ day-to-day experiences.

I love attending Sustainable Brands, because it’s a place for CSR professionals, (even those who are really more focused on employee volunteering such as myself) to meet like-minded peers and hear about innovative ways that companies are placing purpose at the center of their business.

The VolunteerMatch Summit, happening this December in Oakland, CA offers a similar atmosphere for CSR professionals. However, it takes a deeper dive into one particular aspect of a holistic CSR approach: Community involvement and volunteering. Learn more.

Photo Credit: Michael Heiss

Finding the Golden Circle of Your Employee Volunteer Program

Finding the Golden Circle of Your Employee Volunteer ProgramCommunication is an important yet often overlooked part of your employee volunteer program. Both internally, for getting employees engaged and excited about the program, and externally, to let the world know that your company and your employees care about their communities.

And even when we do dedicate time and resources to communicate about it, too often we focus our communications around the “What” of our programs – telling our employees only what they can do or telling our external stakeholders specifics like number of hours volunteered or number of dollars donated.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are important. But they’re not particularly inspirational, and they don’t tie people to your program emotionally. So how DO you evoke this emotion for people when it comes to your employee volunteer program?

In Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” his message is clear and simple – “It’s not what you do, but why you do it” that gets others engaged and inspired to take action. He goes on to talk through how great brands like Apple have created movements and found success by first communicating the “Why” of their brands and beliefs before diving into the “How” and “What.” And also how others have failed from doing the opposite. This talk got me thinking – does this way of thinking and communicating relate to employee volunteering? How?

In short, the answer is yes! Focusing on the “why” can be beneficial for any part of your employee volunteer program messaging strategy, both internally and externally. By starting your message with a hook that evokes emotion and communicates value, the audience will be invested in what you’re saying right from the start.

Here are some ways that you can incorporate the “Why” of your employee volunteering program both internally and externally:

Give your employees the opportunity to experience the “Why” first hand.

Chris Jarvis of Realized Worth recently joined VolunteerMatch for a special Best Practice Network webinar on this very topic. The idea of Transformative Value hinges specifically on giving your employees the opportunity to internalize the values and beliefs of your company through experiencing them first hand – by volunteering! Make sure that your employees always have access to these opportunities to get involved (perhaps using tools like VolunteerMatch Solutions), because once they experience the “Why” themselves, they become your program’s biggest ambassadors to get others involved.

Get employees’ attention from the start with “Why”-focused project titles.

Instead of titling a volunteer opportunity for your employees “Clean up a playground this weekend,” make the title something that is inspiring and explains why cleaning up a playground is important. Who will it help? Why does it matter? Try something like “Give local youth a safe and clean place to play.”

Brand your employee volunteering program with a “WHY?”

What is the purpose of your program? What are the causes that your company cares about? For example, if the answer is to build community – try using that word in the program name and invoke the purpose or your employee volunteer program at first glance.

Apply it to your external communications strategy, as well.

Take Sinek’s Golden Circle approach. Instead of just telling your external stakeholders what your employees did (i.e. they volunteered a certain number of hours,) tell them, “We believe our employees are committed to making a difference in their communities. Because of this we offer them the opportunity to get involved and make an impact through our employees volunteer program. They volunteered ‘X’ hours and created ‘Y’ impact.”

These are just a few simple ideas, but what should you do next? Take a minute after reading this article to watch Sinek’s TEDTalk, and then take a look at your current communications strategies. What are your key messages? Write them down and ask where they fit into the Golden Circle. Is each one a “What”, “How”, or “Why” message, and how do they all fit together?

Keep the Golden Circle in mind while crafting your new messages and your audience will understand what you already know: your program is inspiring!

CSR Food for Thought: For the Love of Community

The CSR Food for Thought series is a weekly roundup of relevant news from around the Web, presented to you in one bite-sized blog post. Follow us on Twitter for CSR news and trends throughout the week: @VM_Solutions.




Music + CSR = Love

My dream come true, a world where music and CSR meet! This week on the Forbes CSR Blog, Paul Klein makes a connection between a quote from Neil Young and the importance of transparency in CSR leadership.

Show your Love for your Favorite Responsible Company

The 2013 Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Film Festival voting is now open! BCCCC gives companies the opportunity to showcase their love for CSR via video during their annual film festival and you can be a part by casting your vote for your favorite corporate citizenship video. Entrants include companies like Biogen Idec, Dow Chemical and AT&T, plus many many more. Start watching now because voting closes March 1st!

A Little Self-Love: Delivering Business Value from Corporate Citizenship

On Tuesday, VolunteerMatch hosted the February installment of the Best Practice Network webinar series. We were joined by Katherine Smith, executive director of Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, and Tabatha Stephens, manager of corporate contributions and volunteers at FedEx. Katherine shared the findings and highlights of the Center’s 5th State of Corporate Citizenship Report. Tabatha added an interesting layer to the presentation by sharing some of FedEx’s practices that exemplify the findings of the research. You can watch the recorded webinar on our YouTube channel.

Mid-Year Conference Update: Where We’ve Been and Where We’ll Be

Where in the conference world is VolunteerMatch?

Where in the conference world is VolunteerMatch?

With summer approaching (and the weather in San Francisco actually matching up to the season for once), and the VolunteerMatch Client Summit just a day away, I thought it would be a great time to update you on the conferences we’ve been to so far this year and where you can meet up with us over the next few months.

We’ve been on the road spreading the word about VolunteerMatch, our services, and why volunteering is important on a personal and a professional level.

Here’s a recap of where we’ve been over the past few months and a sneak peek of where we will be this summer:

Where We’ve Been


NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco, Calif.

We were excited to have a strong presence at NTC this year, from working with the NTEN staff to coordinate their Day of Service, to throwing the #NTCSFParty pre-conference bash, to presenting and attending at the conference.

Jennifer Bennett, our Senior Manager of Education & Training, and Molly Trezise, our Senior Product Manager, hosted a session on our Listing Wizard. Our Online Communications Manager, Shari Ilsen, moderated a panel discussion about successful uses of technology tools that are available to nonprofits for volunteer engagement.

Robert Rosenthal, Vice President of Communications & Marketing for VolunteerMatch, delved into the world of corporate/nonprofit relationships with a panel of best practice experts on getting your organization ready for pro bono volunteers. Last, but certainly not least, our President, Greg Baldwin, had the pleasure of joining other industry leaders for the closing plenary of the conference to talk about nonprofits and innovation.

Charities@Work in New York, N.Y.

Seth Thompson, our East Coast Solutions Director, attended Charities@Work along with approximately 150 corporate contributions professionals. This year’s summit topics included effective employee engagement, building the business case for your programs and engaging employees in volunteerism, and giving and sustainability.

BCLC Conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Seth was also able to attend the Business Civic Leadership Center’s 2012 National Conference this year (jet-setter!). Attendees included leaders in community affairs, partnerships, corporate philanthropy and social responsibility, to name a few. This year’s agenda focused on corporate citizenship and the future of America.


CECP Utilities Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

Greg Price, our Executive Vice President & Chief Services Officer, was invited to speak at the Utilities Roundtable, hosted by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy and PEPCO Holdings. He was part of an expert panel discussing “Activating the Full Spectrum of Employee Engagement.” Other panelists included Anne Wallestad, Chief Operating Officer at BoardSource, and Farron Levy, President at True Impact.

Where We’ll Be


VolunteerMatch Client Summit in San Francisco, Calif.

After taking our annual Client Summit on the road to Las Vegas and Chicago over the past two years, we’re bringing it home to our beautiful City by the Bay, San Francisco. Maybe I’m a little biased, but this year’s Summit is going to be our best one yet!

Our keynote presenters include Carol Cone, Global Vice Chair of Edelman Business & Social Purpose talking about the “Radically Engaged Business,” and Meg Garlinghouse, Head of Social Impact for LinkedIn talking about how social media is changing the way companies engage employees in volunteerism. We’ll also be joined by many other thought leaders, including the Director of Communications from the next conference on this list…

Cause Marketing Forum in Chicago, Ill.

Casey Brennan, Marketing & Insights Manager, and Dianna Smith, Midwest Solutions Director, will be attending CMF this year. Casey will be giving a presentation as part of the Six Big Ideas in 60 Minutes panel with five other cause marketing leaders. She’ll be focusing on “Employee Engagement as a Cause Testing Ground,” highlighting the importance of getting your employees on board before trying to engage your consumers – so you have a cohesive message and story.


Sustainable Brands in San Diego, Calif.

Casey Brennan (another jet-setter!) and Business Development Manager, Lauren Wagner (that’s me!), are heading to Sustainable Brands this year. This will be VolunteerMatch’s first time at this conference, and we’re looking forward to connecting with other experts in the field about employee engagement and its importance to a company’s CSR and sustainability practices.

If you’ll be there, make sure to check out the CauseWay to hear from a group of awesome organizations about ways your company can get involved. This is bound to be a great conference with phenomenal opportunity to learn, just take a peek at the partial attendee list!

National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago, Ill.

VolunteerMatch will be heading to Chicago for NCVS this year. We have a great group going from both our corporate and nonprofit services teams. Robert Rosenthal will be back in the presenter’s chair, leading a workshop on content strategy with NTEN’s Holly Ross and Amy Sample-Ward during the Social Media for Social Good preconference on Sunday, 6/17.

Also on Sunday, during the Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement preconference, our President, Greg Baldwin, will be presenting a plenary, “Re-Thinking Leadership in a High Tech Age”, and Jennifer Bennett, Senior Manager of Education & Training, will be talking about social media and volunteer engagement.

That about wraps it up for the summer months! If you’re going to any of these conferences and would like to meet up with any of our staff that are attending to learn more about VolunteerMatch and what we do, send us an email and we’ll get you connected.

I hope all of your summer plans are as exciting as ours, and we can’t wait to see you at these great events!